Hurricane Harvey was the worst hurricane Texas has seen in over 50 years and Houston was one of the hardest hit areas with massive flooding as a result.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott (R), warned Houston residents that regardless of an official evacuation order, “you need to strongly consider evacuating.” Yet, according to The Weather Channel, Houston’s Mayor Sylvester Turner (D), called for everyone to stay put, resulting in six deaths and trapping 7 million people in their homes.
Hurricane Harvey has unleashed massive flooding in Houston. Some areas are estimated to have fifty inches of rain and the US Army Corps of Engineers is struggling to relieve the pressure on local dams that could see levees break, a terrifying recreation of what happened in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina.
According to The Washington Post on Friday, when the hurricane was predicted to make landfall over the weekend, Governor Abbott encouraged citizens of the Houston area to pack up and leave. “Even if an evacuation order hasn’t been issued by your local official, if you’re in an area between Corpus Christi and Houston, you need to strongly consider evacuating. What you don’t know, and what nobody else knows right now, is the magnitude of flooding that will be coming,” he said.
City officials in Houston quickly rejected the warning, telling residents to stay put. Mayor Turner made this statement shortly after Abbott’s warning: “There are a number of people who are in Hurricane Harvey’s direct path, and evacuation orders have been given to them. But for the Houston area… this is a rainmaker for us. There’s no need for people to be thinking about putting themselves in greater danger.”
Francisco Sanchez, Emergency Management Spokesperson for Harris County quickly sided with the mayor on twitter: “Local officials know best. Houston has no evacuation order. In Harris County: very limited to select communities. LOCAL LEADERS KNOW BEST.”
Now that the floods have ravaged the city, Abbott has stated that more than 250 highways in Texas are closed, making evacuation from Houston incredibly difficult as the storms are expected to continue this week.
Despite the danger to citizens trapped inside their homes and shelters, Turner defends his decision. “You can’t put 6.5 million people on the roads,” he said, referring to the decision not to evacuate shortly before the hurricane hit.
Kathleen Blanco, former Louisiana governor who was in office when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, says the city officials of Houston should have taken the threat more seriously and were completely unprepared for the areas they did decide to evacuate.
She criticized them, in particular, for their lack of action in those areas predicted to have the worst flooding before the hurricane and have now received the worst of the flooding. “It’s not apparent to us watching that they developed a sensible evacuation formula,” Blanco said. “You have to allow people in the southernmost regions to get out the quickest. You can’t tell everyone to leave at the same time or you end up with gridlock, especially in a big urban center.”
Texas state officials including the governor, and federal officials including President Trump, urged Houstonians to evacuate in preparation for Hurricane Harvey’s landfall, yet the mayor of Houston told residents to “stay put.” Was the mayor attempting to create a political crisis by misleading Houstonians?
The National Weather Service has warned of “additional catastrophic, unprecedented and life threatening flooding” for the rest of this week and standing flash-flood emergency broadcasts are in place for the entire southeast Texas area.
Our prayers go out to those still stranded and affected by the flooding. Hopefully, city officials will acknowledge their mistakes to this point and cooperate with state and federal authorities so this disaster can be minimized.